Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"I Love You" & Related Tactics of Desecration - A Public Service Announcement


Among you lurks something terrifying - designed from the core to take all that is inside of you and rip it to shreds. In the house across the street, the cafe around the corner, the dorm across the quad - it stirs in the sun and in the shadows, evaluating potential prey and waiting to bite. It can smell your vulnerability from miles away, like a trademark perfume, begging to lick it off of you and make it it's own under the guise of the smallest of friendly gestures. But you must not fall victim to it's sympathetic eyes and bashful grin - the hesitation behind it's smile is the only bloodthirsty tick it can't control. "I could be your friend," it will implore you, the first claw it will plant firmly beneath your skin. Your guard is up and your a year past beating yourself up for having turned into a stoic because it's so much easier to see yourself as a strong wall that can stand up against the sweetest of smooth talking minutemen than to crumble slowly with the realization that you may end up alone forever, like your mother and your best friend from high school who you disassociated from when you finally decided to make something out of your life. But this, this is even stronger than that. It can tear that wall of yours down with its bare hands, removing one small stone at a time, before you've noticed there's another claw digging in, firming its grip. You'll convince yourself that you deserve to let yourself go just this once. You can't go around with a stick up your ass forever. If you never try, how will you ever find the one? So you hand yourself over, minuscule  amounts at a time - but it will take a mile for every piece you offer as you extend your hand. The third claw is in and you're starting to have second thoughts. The things it tells you don't seem to fit with the reality its caused you to so eloquently dream. You try to think about it. You're overanalyzing, paranoid, you're becoming like you were before - you know, back when you fucked up everything else good in your life. "I can do this," you decide. But as you approach it, to tell it you're ready to show it everything - you look down and you finally realize....

....It's been stripping you naked all along.

Is this the way love feels?

Are you or someone you care about involved in a relationship that seems more like a soulless monster pursuing its prey than a loving partnership of light? You aren't alone. Abuse comes in all different shapes, sizes, and scenarios. No attack is too small, nor moment too fleeting, to be taken seriously as a threat to your personal wellbeing. No woman (or man) should ever have to feel like their skin isn't even enough to hide within. Romantic partners can seem like a miraculous twist of fate - but can just as quickly materialize beyond the fog of euphoria - only to be so despicable in reality that you're left feeling like you've just seen a record-setting mirage. Being lied to, manipulated, used, or PHYSICALLY HARMED are all reasons TOO MANY to get help. Your sisters are here for you; and we will help you rip every monstrous claw out, one fucking claw at a time.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cheer For Your Rapist, Dammit!

Considering the latest in lovely campus news, I've found myself particularly on alert for news involving sexual assault, harassment and rape, as well as attitudes toward the aforementioned atrocities. This afternoon, I came upon a San Francisco Gate article via Slutwalk Baltimore, which chronicled the plight of a Texas high-school cheerleader who refused to engage in a chant of her rapist's name at a Silsbee High basketball game. Four months prior to the game in question, the cheerleader (referred to by initials H.S.) proported that Silsbee's star athlete, Rakheem Bolton, had raped her while at a party in town. At the time, Rakheem pleaded guilty to the rape, receiving a "suspended sentence" on the misdemeanor assault charge.
The present issue revolves around the fact that H.S. was informed that she could either cheer for Bolton like the other girls or go home, at which point H.S. actively joined the team, but "folded her arms and was silent". H.S. and parents then did what I believe any soul-possessing human being would think to do in such a situation - sued the school district for violating her right to freedom of expression. Then, the unthinkable happened:
"An appeals court in New Orleans ruled against her, saying a cheerleader acts as a "mouthpiece" for the school. Federal courts have also ordered H.S. and her parents to reimburse the district more than $45,000 for the costs of defending against a frivolous suit."
What the HELL is going on in this country? As Baltimore Slutwalk comments on the travesty, "Rape someone? Be a star athlete. Refuse to cheer for your rapist? Get kicked off the team you worked so hard for. Priorities:  America has them."
Is this country really so morally barren that they demand a rape victim to publicly revere the man who violated her?

Prevailing Thought: Why the fuck was Mr. Bolton not banned from participating in athletics after committing a rape that the community was obviously well aware of? Where were the mothers of fellow athletes (and fellow cheerleaders, for the love of God!) not calling the school and raising holy hell about the fact that their children were interacting with this boy? If the courts had done their job, the dirtbag wouldn't be one-upping his victim in front of the entire student body - he'd been rotting behind bars.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Eye Opener - Sexual Assault Hits Home

Today marks the beginning of a sad week in McDaniel College's neck of the woods. Yesterday morning I woke from a good night's sleep to find the following email waiting for me:

"On Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at approximately 1:30 a.m. a female McDaniel College student was walking home from an off-campus event that had taken place in the 230 block of Pennsylvania Ave.  The student was approached by a white male, approximately 35 years of age.  He is described as: thin to medium build, approximately 5’8”, with a scruffy beard and short brown hair, wearing jeans and a plain black hooded sweatshirt.  After a brief verbal exchange, the student was physically forced into the yard of 218 Pennsylvania Ave. and was sexually assaulted.  The student fought off the suspect and returned to campus.  The student contacted the Department of Campus Safety, who immediately responded to support the student and assist local law enforcement agencies in their investigation and search for the perpetrator."
Reading this to a few family members, I was shocked to hear their responses, particularly when relating the information to two male family members. The first, after being read the email, responded simply with, "Yes, that is, if she's even telling the truth." The second responded, "It's not big deal. There are [sexual predators] everywhere. They're in this neighborhood, they're in other neighborhoods, they're where we work, they're everywhere we go. Nothing you can do about it. Nothing to worry about." My mother, the only female in the residence at the time, was also the only person to become legitimately concerned for my wellbeing on the campus and the other girls on campus, as well as overtly sympathetic toward the actual female that was attacked.
Yes, sexual assault is not exactly rare. But the rate at which it occurs does not make it okay. Are we really so desensitized to this sort of thing that we allow it to become commonplace? After bringing this up with a friend, she said something that just might hold some truth: perhaps this has become commonplace because the message is always "Don't let yourself get raped" rather than "Do not rape."

Will you allow the women of your communities to become the "usual victims"? Or is sexual assault, particularly when it occurs in close-knit communities, something more to you than just another statistic?

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding - Built Up Like Christmas And Over Just As Fast. Or Is It?

I must admit that I really looked forward to the nuptial arrangement of Sir William and Kate at Westminster Abbey. I have had passing obsessions with Princess Diana with my youth, my likely due to the fact that my mother had a lasting obsession herself. I have faint memories of a "Dress Up Doll Diana!" book as a child, one that I never cut up to actually use due to the fact that it was, intuitively, an object to be revered and handled with care. In fact, it still sits on my bookshelf, untouched as ever. It is the very acknowledgement that it remains untouched that provides insight into the way I have handled the royal wedding and all the media clamor that it has entailed. Around the nation, eyes remain peeled and glued to television screens, eager to observe every move of the couple. The question behind each set of eyes, however, is the same - Why? Why, despite our rationale that all of this has been blown out of proportion, are we so desperate to not miss a second of it? "It doesn't impact out lives; there are greater issues at hand," we say to each other. But in our homes, on our computers, even on the newspapers littering our kitchen tables, stand William and Kate, photograph after photograph, article after article. And we hunger to take it in.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have a theory. First of all, we all remember Princess Diana - the regal, beautiful woman who took it upon herself to be the strongest woman she could while in a position that most conform within to cling to semblance of comfort. We watched her death - the controversy. We were trained to revere. We knew we had witnessed something horrific, something out of control. And the explanations we received left something to be desired.
My mother and I watched the Lifetime movies. Diana became a symbol. I'm not sure what she became a symbol of, but she magically transformed from being a Princess met with a tragic end into a legend - how could something so awful happen to someone of such a status? The royal family of afar became shrouded in darkness. And we watched as her children grew out into the light.
Now, William old enough to marry. . . will the woman he chooses live up to her role? Does she know what she's getting herself into? The same old questions tie into a tired line of dialogue. So why do we all seem to care so much?

Today, the Huffington Post ran an article by Paul Raushenbush entitled, "The Royal Wedding as Sacrament." A few things that Raushenbush stated really rang true to me, and put into perspective exactly why many of us may be acting in such a manner contradictory to our guiding principle.
"Weddings are intrinsically hopeful acts. Yet they are also realistic. Within the very liturgy of marriage there is acknowledgment of sickness and poverty, and the certainty of death. Standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace were individuals who have seen great sorrow and the absence of the groom's mother was a reminder of the fragility both of weddings and of life itself. In the face of all this, the liturgy of marriage involves a forceful assertion of the value and necessity of commitment to the future with mutual support and unity, even within the face of adversity."
Not only does Raushenbush touch on the significance of the wedding in relation to Princess Diana - he reminds us of our mortality. The royal wedding may not be a turning point in all of our lives, an event so monumental that we, ourselves, will be forever altered. What it is, however, is a reminder to all of us that there is hope in this world just as there is tragedy. We may not relate to Will and Kate, but what we can relate to is the symbolic value their matrimony lends to England. In a world where "sickness and poverty" are threatening greater pockets of the population, here is a moment of light on which all can concentrate. Even William and Kate are reminded of their fate; for their lives are the ones that truly are changing, and with their vows comes the promise to each other to remain faithful till death. Raushenbush asks us to do the same, if only in our religious lives:
"The sacrament of marriage includes the blessing of God's providence. Within the ornate language of the liturgy of matrimony shines a deep longing that God will strengthen the ties that bind the couple to one another and bring them peace. Perhaps what we are all longing for when we watch this beautiful spectacle is to remember God's blessing on our own lives, to help reconcile our own relationships and bring peace to our fractured world."
One needn't believe in such a God to take a lesson from Raushenbush's words. The royal wedding just may serve as an unconscious reminder that life goes on. Acknowledge our strength now. Life is not a hurdle, but an invitation to cross the finish line into a new beginning - motivation to tie together our loose ends in the same way William and Kate tie their lives together now.

Perhaps I and all of my female sisters out there have just developed a princess complex better left unexplored. Or maybe there really is something greater going on beneath the gossip and glamour of a new princess being introduced to the world.
Rest in Peace, Di

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" Westminster - Then Take Them Off and Call it a Day

While the debate over abortion and the relentlessly false vilification of Planned Parenthood rattled the nation to the point of seemingly imminent government collapse, my little corner of the world here at McDaniel College took a morsel of time out of the monotonous daily grind of campus life to "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" - the "international men's march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence."

Presented by the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, fliers handed out to the surrounding community read the following:
"Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining Walk a Mile in Her Shoes . . . Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a fun opportunity for men to educate the community about a very serious subject and to rally the community to take action to prevent sexual violence." 
"There is an old saying: "You can't really understand another persons' experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes." Walk a Mile in Her Shoes asks men to literally walk one mile in women's high-heeled shoes. It's not easy walking in these shoes, but it's fun and it gets the community to talk about something that's really difficult to talk about:  gender relations and sexual violence."
"It's critical to open up communication about sexual violence. While hidden away, it's immune to cure. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get people talking. People unfamiliar with it often don't even want to know it exists. It's ugly. People that have experienced it themselves want to forget about it. How do you get them talking now, so they can prevent it from happening? And after it's happened, how do you get them to talk about it so they can recover?"
"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes provides several opportunities to get people talking. For preventive education, it helps men better understand and appreciate women's experiences, thus changing perspectives, helping improve gender relationships and decreasing the potential for violence. For healing, it informs the community that services are available for recovery. It demonstrates that men are willing and able to be courageous partners with women in making the world a safer place." 
 As a member of Gamma Sigma Sigma, a sorority lending services to the event, I got a firsthand look at what was taking place, as well as the attitudes of those involved. While I couldn't have been happier that McDaniel College staff, from the president to a few members of faculty, were taking time out of their Spring weekend to tramp around Main Street in hideously oversized high-heels, waving around signs of solidarity, I almost felt as though it was showing more than it could speak for. What would happen if a rape victim had walked up to one of these men after the walk? What would happen if a student had no where else to go, but felt that, after seeing one of her coaches taking part in the walk, she could go to him  and confide in him what had happened to her? Cars lined the streets, the drivers inside with their faces plastered to the windows, eager to see what was going on. A policeman on a segway followed the group along, stopping to give parking citations along the way. But was anyone really thinking about the tragedy of what their were raising awareness for?
To my knowledge, no one involved was made aware of information to give in the case that someone should confront them with the desire to voice a problem from personal experience, or in the quest for help. No meetings were held to better equip these people with tools for becoming a person of support. No connections were made with the local women's shelter or advocacy groups. So while the walk unquestionably raised awareness, did it really open any channel of communication? I don't believe so.

It is commendable that the nation is coming together on the idea that men could better understand women by being put in their shoes. But the goal must transcend the literal representation - which, if you think about it, is a little bit of an insult to what needs to be happening in reality - and really aim to educate men and organize local groups in the name of of all the issues the movement is seeking to prevent.
(Not to mention the fact that the only McDaniel students involved in the walk were either Gamma Sigma Sigma sign-carrying volunteers, or football players that had been appealed to by their coach to wear heels as they walked down the street.

A week-long celebration of the McDaniel Allies club has taken over the campus this past week. Why did something like this not occur in the name of "Gender Relations & Sexual Violence" the week prior to the  walk? Because it's easier to have a "fun opportunity for men" that to truly address what many men are guilty of - possibly even the same men walking down Main Street with their heels duct-taped to their feet.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Marijuana and the Workplace, Twenty Years Later

I greet every morning from the front steps of my university dormitory - cigarette in hand, eyes squinting from the sunlight reflected off of the snow. This morning I brought a book outside with me for the occasion, "No More Nice Girls:  Countercultural Essays" by Ellen Willis (1992). Scanning the table of contents for a chapter that I could immediately relate to without too much mental investment, I quickly paged to an essay titled, "The Drug War:  From Vision to Vice".
The argument made within the essay revolved around the reality of mandatory drug testing within the workplace, and the confused stigma surrounding marijuana and the "enlightening" effects of the psychedelic drug scene.
The argument breaks down into a simple question: Is it right or wrong to mandate drug tests in the work place and, in the event that it is, what stigma will users of marijuana be faced with by their peers? Disclaimer: I'll explore this question while avoiding the larger issue of legalization; of course one could argue that mandatory workplace testing would be okay if it didn't target pot smokers. After all, some people are even prescribed it. But legalization is a far larger argument than is necessary here when discussing Willis' article.
I do disagree with mandatory drug testing in every workplace. There are, however, many positions that require alertness, swiftness, complete mental and mobile control. Those who work in factories, construction, or other environments where heavy machinery or manual labor is involved need to be their best. The problem with this, however, is that these are the same positions that often cause injury. This is where over the counter narcotics come on the scene. 
Should an employ be put in the situation where their job could be lost because their ingesting a prescribed, narcotic painkiller for job-related (even not job-related, for that matter) injuries? When the results of the test come back and they test positive for opiates, will the company be lenient? Will employees be able to bring documentation regarding what prescriptions they are on and why? Probably not, based on the fact that employers test for those drugs as well, which is really none of their business if said employee is not working in a safety sensitive position.
More frightening is the possibility of suspicion based testing, wherein an employee could be summoned for God knows what reasons. But back to the case presented in the article, which focuses specifically on marijuana.
If an employee is not working in a safety sensitive area as mentioned above, using marijuana for medical purposes should not be a problem in my opinion. Some people can't take narcotic painkillers (which show up on drug tests under just as much suspicion) and marijuana is the only choice for reliable pain relief.
Does marijuana have a bad rap? Of course. Flocks of fledgling activists, joints rolled and stacked in the pockets of their distressed second-hand flannel, don't exactly portray the most convincing of arguments while waving posters of giant pot leafs around. But ultimately, the only opinion that matters is that of the law.
It all basically boils down to the fact that the opinion of marijuana a decade into the new millennium is not what it was when Willis was growing up, nor what it was at the time of her parents ascent into adulthood. Marijuana is not viewed, on the large public scale, as a substance capable of taking the human mind into previous unexplored places. It is not something that people merely use in the privacy of their own homes to turn on, tune in and drop out. The reality of the situation is that there are thousands of people driving around in the cars right at this second, only holding their pieces to the lips when the coast is clear. There are people in the fast food industry indulging while on their breaks so that they're high enough to not give a shit about how boring their job is. There are people who are mentally addicted and cannot function without. All of these factors culminate to show that, yes, marijuana has become more of a vice than a visionary tool. But only for those who allow it to be. Sadly, it is these people that make the stakes more trying for those who smoke responsibly, who separate the work environment from their home life and seek great depth from life, not great escape.
Until everyone can follow in such seekers' footsteps, drug testing in the workplace remains somewhat of a necessary evil, albeit one that could use several major adjustments. And whether you dream of higher levels of being or you're running from reality so fast you don't see the edge before you fall, when it's your turn for testing, there will be no escape at all.

In conclusion, I am forced to admire Willis for including an essay on such a controversial topic in an anthology written as early as 1992. Today, news stations can barely bring up legalization without screaming at each other from the digital boxes that hold their talking heads. Mothers riot over MTV's pathetic attempt at bringing the edge to America with the regrettable remake of "Skins". For being a countercultural topic in 1992, should we not be ready to face issues such as this almost twenty years later? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rich Santos on Women: Experience, Saying "Yes" Yields the Unattractive, "Bad" Woman

Rich Santos, the "Single Guy" advising the seemingly female readers of Marie Claire's "Dating Diaries" column, seems to be gaining more and more attention in the blogosphere in recent weeks. After catching references to the young Manhattanite on Jezebel, I was surprised to catch one of his articles making it onto Feministe's "Things to Make You Sick as Hell" post, I decided to peruse the online archives of his column on Marie Claire's website to see what the buzz was all about, and why Jill over at Feministe was the next respected blogger to call bullshit on the man who "finds charm in stupidity" and is "jaded and annoyed by everyone." Perhaps the former can be said the same for his more accepting readers.
In reference to Feministe's evident criticism of Santos' logic lies his March 7th post - "Why Men Prefer Inexperienced Women". If the title alone hasn't yet infuriated you to the point that you're not still following, let us begin by looking at the five main points Santos uses to illustrate his assertion:
1)"Corrupting Innocence is Fun" - Really? Isn't this what happens when a handful of Catholic Priests pick out their favorite altar boys for a special adventure on the floor of the confessional? "Making someone bad is fulfilling and fun," Santos says, enlightening his readers to the hypocritical ideal that, while a woman is undesirable if she is already "bad", being the man to make her that way is perfectly acceptable. One must wonder what context Santos places such a thought within in order to actually have this logic work, as well as be able to sustain itself. "Guys want to be the leaders rather than the followers," he says.
Basically what Santos is saying is that a woman who is self-motivated, who is strong and takes charge, who is proud of her sexuality and in control of the way she carries herself an d of the desires she seeks to fulfill, is not attractive. Instead, he takes on an almost pedophiliac vision of a virginal, pure woman ready to follow the teachings of his personal sexual prowess.
2)"We Don't Take Bad Girls Seriously" - Here Santos voices the assumption that a "bad girl" isn't the type of girl you'd want to "take home to mom". It becomes apparent that there is great danger in splitting women in half, labeling one side "good" and one side "bad". How is a male to decide which category a woman fits into? Just as the label "bad" brought such issues above in point number one, her such a label really begins to show how ambiguous such categorization is. What makes a girl bad, the fact that she's comfortable in her sexuality or has, assumably, had enough experience to not allow herself to completely fall helpless in the hands of a man eager to "teach her the ropes"?
3)"Bad Girls Are Intimidating" - What, because you're so insecure that you can only go after meek, shy, unsure little girls who need some male validation? "This is my biggest issue," admits Santos. "I love confidence, but that confidence has to be quiet confidence." According to Rich, my assumption that categorization of bad girls involves their level of confidence is verified. Go ahead and be confident, girls, but if you expect to land a man like our fine author here, you better hide it and lie through your teeth so as not to embarrass him or rape him of his sense of masculinity.
4)"Bad Girls Seem Promiscuous" - Santos doesn't seem so sure that "bad girls" are promiscuous, but some girls might be, and this makes them bad, never mind the other 99% of their character. That short skirt and  those 7-inch stilettos send the message to Santos and his dude-bros that you're a villain on par with Cruella de Ville, ready to skin them alive with your razor-sharp eyelashes and acrylic fingernails.
5)"Bad Girls are Less Mysterious" - Yes, because if you can see 70% of a woman's fleshy surface area, the other 100% of what is inside her is irrelevant. "I wouldn't complain about a woman showing too much skin, but I don't find it as compelling." Of course, because the more skin a woman shows, the less innocence a man can steal from her when she gives herself over to him in private.
6)"Guys Have Control Issues" - "A bad girl is tough to control; we never know what she's going to do next."
Each of Santos' points culminates into one final statement that summarizes his terribly flawed opinion of what makes a woman desirable. In summary, Santos' article seems to convey the idea that it is a combination of confidence, security, experience, and freedom that makes the difference between a good and bad woman.

UPDATE: After working on this article I was looking through posts on the women's blogging site, Jezebel, only to find that they had columnist Tracie Egan Morrissey had taken on the same post as I had with Rich. Her take on Santos' beyond questionable commentary can be found here.